Thursday, April 23, 2015

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing)Cornershop's recent projects

"Handcream for a Generation arrives five years later and 25 years before. In part it's a period piece, including snatches of 'Trans-Europe Express,' vocoder, organ funk, acid-rock jam, DJ toasting inna U-Roy style, but most characteristically echoes of Stax or Hi horn charts, identified from the lead cut, where veteran r&b also-ran [sic] Otis Clay, recorded at a soundcheck, literally if somewhat uncertainly announces the track listing cut by cut. The conceit is sort of that this technologically alert, globally cool indie band introduced by some going-through-the-motions house-band MC is actually a second-string soul act in 1971. Handcream is leaner and less exuberant than When I Was Born, lower on warm drone and Indian elements generally and higher on Singh's sardonic mode--the avowedly anti-'soft rock' yet pretty damn easygoing 'Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III,' or the string of cryptic social observations that is 'Wogs Will Walk.' Yet between the understated retro, a few Clay reprises, and various unheroic vocal appearances (most explicitly the nervous Punjabi introducer of 'Sounds Super Recording'), it gives off a friendly, used feeling, like old vinyl booths in a new club.

As usual, lyrics are repeated until they almost take recognizable shape. Just to give some idea of how abstruse the meanings can be--in Cornershop side project Clinton's 2000 CD, Clay's name is immortalized in 'Welcome to Tokio, Otis Clay,' and though the song never refers to the fact, or to Clay, Japan is the only place he was ever a star. How would I have known that without trolling Cornershop sites? Singh offered a few translations when I reached him on his mobile phone. 'Motion the 11,' a reggae showstopper featuring Jack Wilson and Kojak and a persistently unresolved harmonium, is the name of a dance move. But even when Singh explained 'Staging the Plaguing of the Raised Platform,' in terms of his political mission, I still didn't entirely get it, though I didn't mind; to me, that anti-'establishment' song was about a kid chorus singing 'making the dope dope and the dope, dope,' whatever that means, just as 'People Power in the Disco Hour' wasn't so much about disco being 'the halfway to a full discontent,' which could be Cornershop's credo, as about the way it peaked with a most undisco sound, the doddering pips of an old English phone, followed by--this is the modern world!--the good-natured anticlimax of cell phones bleating. In a body of work like this, where linguistic comprehension or incomprehension is a theme, and where sound itself is so examined and intentional, the cliché of music as language gains telling coherence. It articulates one political mission more credibly than words usually can--coalition building. Sounds like corny 'Love Train' idealism, brought in to suit the Handcream ambience. But because Singh has one of those brains, the idea's mess and contradiction are accounted for--both relished and understood for the limitations they are."

(Excellent criticism, but harshly and verifiably wrong on Hi Records hitman Otis Clay)

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